The State of Victims of Crime

Women Are Heard—and an Understanding of Who Victims Are Expands

Victims or survivors of crime as a group are poorly understood by the public and many officials, even though they hold important keys to improving safety and justice in society. Victims know a lot about crime: the majority of victims have been crime victims before and have witnessed other crimes.Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), Crime Survivors Speak: The First-Ever National Survey of Victims’ Views on Safety and Justice (Oakland, CA: Tides Center, 2016) ("the strongest predictor of victimization is having previously been a victim of crime”), 7. They know the current system often does not give them meaningful recourse, so fewer than half of violent crimes—and only two-fifths of many property crimes—are reported.Ibid. at 11 (“The number one and two reasons for not reporting cited by respondents, respectively, were feeling that the police wouldn’t do anything and prosecution and courts wouldn’t do anything”). 

Even the justice system and justice reform efforts have often demonstrated a limited view of who counts as a victim deserving of support and services. They have overlooked victims of interpersonal violence and retraumatized them by excluding them, silencing their voices, and failing to restore their well-being in ways that are meaningful to the victims themselves.ASJ, Crime Survivors Speak (2016) This has been particularly true for groups who have experienced discrimination.LGBTQ DV Capacity Building Learning Center, Rethink Pro-Arrest Policies and Criminal Justice Reform Using Historic, Current, and Emerging Knowledge from Diverse Sources in the DV Field (Seattle, WA: Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse, 2016)Nancy Smith, Sandra Harrell, and Amy Judy, How Safe Are Americans with Disabilities? (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2017)Jennifer L. Truman and Rachel E. Morgan, Criminal Victimization, 2015 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016); and U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, 2016 Tribal Consultation Report (Palm Springs, CA: U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, 2016). Victims who are excluded in these ways—such as young, low income men of color—face a greater risk of victimization and polyvictimization, experience more barriers to receiving help, are disproportionately impacted by crime, and generally feel less safe.Eleven percent of children in this study had been victimized six or more times in one year and, as a result, suffered “adversities at rates significantly higher than those youth who experience victimizations within single categories of violence, crime, and abuse. . .” David Finkelhor, Heather Turner, Anne Shattuck, et al., Children’s Exposure to Violence, Crime, and Abuse: An Update (Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2015), at 9; and ASJ, Crime Survivors Speak (2016), at 4, 9.

2017 saw an upsurge in crime victims raising their voices. Tarana Burke’s 10-year-old movement #MeToo broke through nationally, lifting the voices of people—most often women, but also some men—who have experienced sexual and gender-based harassment and assault, especially in work settings.Sandra E. Garcia, “The Woman Who Created #MeToo Long Before Hashtags,” New York Times, October 20, 2017; and Rebecca Solnit, “The Fall of Harvey Weinstein Should Be a Moment to Challenge Extreme Masculinity,” Guardian, October 12, 2017. There also emerged new, more inclusive efforts to understand who victims really are and to provide more inclusive, trauma-responsive, and culturally appropriate healing services to strengthen victim rights and to prevent victimization and re-victimization.For example, the FBI Office for Victim Assistance recognizes witnesses of the October terrorist attack that left eight people dead in Manhattan in October 2017 as additional victims eligible for services. FBI Office for Victim Assistance, “Assistance for Victims of the Tribeca Truck Attack.” The American Medical Association in 2017 published guidance on trauma-informed responses for healthcare providers who may see victims of human trafficking. Rochelle Rollins, Anna Gribble, Sharon E. Barrett, and Clydette Powell, “Who Is in Your Waiting Room? Health Care Professionals as Culturally Responsive and Trauma-Informed First Responders to Human Trafficking,” AMA Journal of Ethics, 19, No. 1 (2017), 63-71.

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